Cards are worth as much as the plastic they are made out of if they don’t get used!
There is no doubt that you’ve witnessed or done it yourself – points cards gathering points that never get redeemed or gift cards that never get used. If you look in my wallet on the main side I have my payment cards and my identification. Flip over to the other side and you’ll find a treasure trove of points/loyalty cards. We have an envelope at home with a dozen or so gift cards from places we don’t go to that have been given as gifts over the years. These go unused and are wasted.
The Loyalty Cards
Half of my wallet is full of cards with various store logos splashed across the front. These are those loyalty benefit cards you get for discounts, store credit or third party perks like Air Miles or Aeroplan. I know I can easily rid myself of all the cards for an app. I’ve chosen not to do that for the time being. I have 2 cards I use at gas stations, 3 cards I use at the grocery store. Then there is the electronics big box store card, a couple of pet store cards, a drug store card – the list goes on. The issue is that I very rarely actually use the points I gather. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. I’m sure because I’ve talked to many people who do the exact same thing.
Maybe it would be better to have the cards on an app. Unless the app would prompt me that I have a reward available to redeem I would have the same result. My wallet would be lighter but I wouldn’t really be further ahead. I’m also not a super-fan of having my contacts and photos shared at every store I go to. It is creepy enough when I walk into a store and Google asks me to snap some pictures because they don’t have any at that location. I don’t have an issue with working for Google but I’d like to be on payroll.
By hording points you run the risk of losing out on rewards you could have enjoyed had you redeemed earlier. There have been a few large company mergers where both companies have their own loyalty card but after the merger only one program remains valid. While this normally comes with plenty of warning, you may end up being forced to purchase something you don’t want/need.
The fix in this case is pretty simple. Just like Sarah wrote about last week, you have a benefit in hand so just use it. Don’t wait until it is the best value, or save them for a rainy day. Why spend money on something you can get for free when your money can be spent (or saved) anywhere? If the issue is that the rewards you can get aren’t at the front of your mind you can include them in your budget as a non-cash asset and include a note on what you could redeem them for.
Gift cards are actually a pretty strange concept. You spend money that can be spent anywhere to purchase an obligation to spend money at only the one place for someone else. Restaurant gift cards are particularly funny because if you don’t give a high enough amount you are adding an obligation for someone to spend their own money as well just so they can spend the gift card you gave them. Now if it for a place that the person goes any way – no harm, no foul.
I’ve had people give me gift cards for restaurants that were not only in my area, but where the gift card would only be enough to cover an appetizer. So you spend $10.00 on a gift card, which in turn leads someone to spend an extra $50.00 of their own money. Spending money to get people to go to a restaurant already has a name – it is called advertising and it shouldn’t be considered a gift. Honestly the restaurant should offer a gift card that is for a dinner for two including a shared appetizer, two entrees, two non-alcohol drinks, two desserts and two coffees. People might choose items where you end up a bit behind, but you are still making money and those people might just buy a bottle of wine to go with their meal.
Just like loyalty cards there may be factors that can make the gift card useless. Location specific gift cards in Ontario are not allowed to expire in most cases. Exceptions are gift cards for a specific service instead of a dollar value or promotional/non-purchased gift cards. Gift cards from a mall that can be used at any stores must retain their value for 15 months. After that they can start deducting up to $2.50 a month. Gift cards can also become useless because the store goes out of business or closes the locations within your area. If a company goes bankrupt you may be able to recover some of the value but only by going through the trustee.
Your best option is to use the card soon after receiving it if it is for a store or restaurant you actually go to. Someone went through the effort to buy an obligation to give business to a certain company; you might as well finish the job. If the card is for a place you don’t often to go, and you have little to no interest in trying something new then certainly don’t waste your time.
Instead you can take advantage of a card swapping program where you can sell for cash. Albeit less than the value. Another option is to trade with someone who also has a gift card they don’t want (for a fee). You can also use an online forum like Kijiji if you’d prefer. The worst thing you can do is do nothing with the gift card. The store already has the money. If you don’t use it the person’s gift is really a donation to a for-profit organization.
Do you have an issue hording loyalty points or gift cards?